The large number of priests to a parish was not unusual for those times and the oversized presbyteries, some of which still exist, are a reminder of how plentiful vocations to the priesthood – and indeed to the religious life – once were.
The situation is now very different; junior seminaries are a thing of the past and today in Britain many seminarians have pursued a career prior to presenting themselves for training for the priesthood. A few have come with a family in tow, having been vicars before their conversion to Catholicism.
As we know, vocations to the priesthood have greatly decreased and the long training of yesteryear has been considerably reduced. We are now in a situation where a newly ordained priest, before the chrism of his ordination is even dry, may find himself dealing with greater responsibility than in the past when curates – guided by their parish priest, perhaps for many years – learned on the job and without all the pressures that they now face. Although our smaller Catholic community means that they minister to fewer people, most priests face a heavy workload of administrative and pastoral duties.
Our priests continue to serve with dedication, generosity and a determination to do their utmost for the people in their care, while working under the cloud of the negative publicity that the Church has received in recent years. It is easy to forget that the scandals that have rocked the Church have hurt and shocked priests and people in equal measure. It takes great courage for a priest to continue his ministry in the aftermath of such pain.
We have perhaps watched the dwindling numbers of priests and put it down as a sign of the times. We retain a hope that the situation will sort itself out eventually but, unless we become much more proactive, that’s not going to happen and the decline will persist.
The Archdiocese of Liverpool works hard in trying to encourage and nurture vocations, but the responsibility to get involved in the effort belongs to the whole Church and should be embraced by every individual. We have to continue to explore ways of harnessing the energy, talents and enthusiasm of the young which is not an easy challenge because we also have to compete with the relentless pull of addictive technology which dominates so much of life today.
We need to pray much more, in every Mass, prayer group, home and school, not only for new vocations but also in support of our current priests, religious and seminarians. It is not an option but a sacred duty. We can all play our part – even children and the sick and housebound, whose prayers are extremely powerful.
We could even have a vocations committee in every parish which would serve to keep a permanent focus on vocations in people’s consciousness and may even result in all sorts of new initiatives. If, because of a shortage of vocations, potential seminarians see only stressed, overworked and exhausted priests, then they are not going to find the Church an attractive proposition when it comes to making a lifetime’s commitment. A new dawn of vocations will not happen on its own: it depends on a renewed and concerted effort, in union with God, from all of us.